Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Tessa Yang

by Chauna Craig Read the Story December 18, 2017

Tell us a little bit about the origins of this story.

Last spring, I was writing some found poems from crosswords. I came across a puzzle with the clues: “absconded with,” “monster’s loch,” and “rescue vessels.” I’m not sure what was so appealing about those words, but I put them together in a single image and quickly saw a narrative. The whole thing really unraveled from that first sentence. If there are monsters, there must also be princesses! If there are lifeboats, there’s probably a shipwreck! I had a lot of fun writing this piece, I think because it felt like play right from the beginning.

Who is your favorite princess, fictional or otherwise, and why?

I’m going to have to go with Princess Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender. She’s a ruthless strategist, perfectionist, and firebending prodigy with no empathy for anyone. She’s terrifying. Fictional princesses tend to be so likable. They’re always trying to do the right thing. There’s nothing likable about Azula. I’m drawn to her because of that difference. She comes on screen and instantly exerts this villainous magnetism. And she’s only fourteen!

You’re currently serving as editor of Indiana Review. How has that experience influenced or altered your own sense of yourself as a writer?

I’m more discerning about the work I send out for publication. I wasn’t careless before, but you read several hundred opening paragraphs, and it’s impossible not to look at your own first pages with keener eyes. IR has also made me feel more rooted in the literary community, which from the outside can seem, I think, a little impenetrable. There are so many great journals, and there are new ones cropping up every day. How do you know where to start? How can you best contribute, and where? Working on IR has helped me to answer these questions. I read more journals now, I read and write book reviews, I get to interview people, I look through contributor notes and track down more work by the authors I like. I’ve discovered all these ways to interact with writers and writing I might otherwise never have encountered.

Tell us about the best book you’ve read this year.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado was one of those books that reminded me what stories can do. They can raise chills on your arms. They can contain lots and lots of sex. They can be funny. They can re-imagine twelve seasons of Law & Order: SVU. As a whole, the book broke down the barriers between literary and genre fiction by delivering strange, suspenseful tales in prose that was both simple and beautiful. I loved it.

I noticed on social media that you’re obsessed with Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. So bring together your areas of expertise: How are sharks and fiction writing alike? 

The short story is clearly the shark of creative writing: lean, muscled, purposeful. It proceeds with direction—it knows what it wants to accomplish—but also, somehow, manages to surprise. Most of all, stories, like sharks, continue to captivate me with their power. I’m always looking at them and thinking, Wow, how are they doing that? I want to know more! And this curiosity leads me to do weird things, like purchase shark encyclopedias or enroll in grad school.

About the Author:

Tessa Yang is an MFA candidate at Indiana University and the Editor-in-chief of Indiana Review. Her fiction has appeared in The Cossack Review, The Conium Review, and Lunch Ticket, and her fiction chapbook was a finalist for contests at Black Lawrence Press and Split Lip Press. When not reading and writing, Tessa enjoys playing Frisbee and counting down the remaining days until next year's Shark Week. Follow her on Twitter: @ThePtessadactyl.

About the Interviewer:

Chauna Craig is the author of the story collection THE WIDOW’S GUIDE TO EDIBLE MUSHROOMS (Press 53, 2017). A Montana native, she now lives and teaches near Pittsburgh. Her creative work has been published in PloughsharesSuperstition ReviewSmokeLong Quarterly, FLASH International and elsewhere.  She is associate domestic editor for the 2018 anthology Best Small Fictions and creative nonfiction editor for Atticus Review. Her writer website is